Chinese medicine vs. Western biomedicine

It is important to grasp that one cannot understand Traditional Chinese Medicine by trying to explain it in Western scientific or medical terms.  The ancient Chinese physicians developed a system of medicine that has survived for over three thousand years.  Chinese medicine is complete within itself but that it is based on physiological concepts, theories regarding cause of disease, methods of diagnosis, and principles of treatment that are completely different from the western way of viewing the body.

One way to understand how two medical systems can view the body differently without one system being “right” and the other system being “wrong” is to use the analogy of a map.  For example, compare a road map and a topographical map of the city of Waco.  Both maps represent the same area, but they do so in very different ways.  As long as both maps are based on accurate information, serve as useful tools for their intended purposes, and have been created with self-consistent logic, it would be absurd to claim that one map is more “correct” than the other.  The maps are different because they are intended to serve different purposes.  If you were planning a road trip from Waco to Denver, you would use the road map.  On the other hand, if you were attempting to determine which area of the city was subject to flooding, a topographical map would be a more useful tool.

Both Western and Chinese medicine provide a “map” for understanding the human body in health and disease.  Western medicine is like the road map.  Depending on the size and scale of the map, a road map can offer very detailed representation of countries, states, counties, cities, neighborhoods, and even individual buildings.  If you were using a map to select the shortest route to an appointment across town, you would choose one with quite a small scale and then you would disregard parts of the map that did not pertain the roads and highways that you plan to use.  This is similar to the way that Western medicine views the body – as a collection of distinct parts (organs, tissues, cells) that can be taken apart and considered in isolation.  Diagnosis and treatment of disease in Western medicine involves using signs, symptoms, and various diagnostic tests to pinpoint the disordered part(s) of the body and then counteract these signs and symptoms with medications, surgery, or other techniques.

In contrast, Chinese medicine is like a topographical map.  On this type of map, mountains, valleys, hills, and plains are defined only in relationship to one another.  It is impossible to separate the various pieces of the landscape and still maintain a meaningful representation of the whole.  From the viewpoint of Chinese medicine, no single sign, symptom, or body part can be understood except within the context of the whole patient.  In establishing a diagnosis and treatment plan, the Chinese medicine practitioner searches for and organizes many signs and symptoms (including many that a Western physician would consider irrelevant or unimportant) and subsequently identifies a “pattern of disharmony”.  In Chinese thought, there is no single cause of disease, rather it is the interaction of numerous factors in the patient’s life (climate, diet, physical activity, contagious diseases, excessive emotions, inherited constitution, trauma, and others) that results in imbalance (also called disharmony).  Eventually this imbalance results in the signs and symptoms of disease.

Are you suggesting that Chinese medicine is better than Western medicine or that I should stop seeing my M.D.?

Absolutely not.  Modern Western medicine has changed the world by achieving many amazing triumphs over disease, and Western medicine is the best choice when it comes to the treatment of acute infections, traumatic injury, situations which require surgery, and other illnesses such as cancer.  Fortunately, Western medicine has tools at its disposal to actually cure these conditions by killing bacteria, repairing traumatic injury, repairing congenital or acquired malformation of organs or tissues, and stopping the spread of malignant tumors.

On the other hand, most physicians will admit that there are a number of health problems that are not addressed particularly well by modern Western medicine.  In the case of many chronic diseases and disorders, Western medicine offers only palliative care – meaning that symptoms are temporarily relieved with medication or surgery but the underlying cause remains.  Examples of such chronic conditions include allergies, asthma, insomnia, depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue, PMS, menstrual pain and irregularity, back pain, attention deficit disorder (ADD), and many others.  In these cases, Chinese medicine offers a mode of treatment that effectively addresses the root cause of the disorder, while at the same time alleviating symptoms.  In many cases, Chinese medicine can be used very effectively as an adjunct or complement to conventional Western care.

My background in both Chinese medicine and Western science uniquely qualifies me to offer patients the best of both worlds.